Imagine you are kneeling in front of a bathtub, and it is filled to the brim with human shit. You're elbow-deep, fishing around in it because you heard there were half a dozen diamonds in this giant container of feces. This is what it would be like to sift through the glut of so-called power violence records that came out in the 90s: almost the entire genre is the worst kind of generic garbage, with a handful of releases rising to the top. Sounds like a waste of time, right? Not so fast: The good stuff is so, so good that it is better than almost anything ever recorded in any genre (if you have heard "Downsided" you know what I'm talking about). Fortunately for those of you who aren't as familiar with the genre as I (regrettably) am, we're here to help.
If you've ever felt like digging into power violence but don't know where to start, this is your download/shopping list. This isn't an MP3 blog, but all this stuff is easy to find on Google Blog Search.
Sarge, you fucking asshole/poser/hipster/homo, this isn't metal
First of all, I hate the term "power violence," but I'll use it because I can't think of anything better and it gets the point across.
I know how angry it makes you jerks when I post about anything that isn't fucking Iron Maiden or whatever, so maybe you are getting butthurt about this post. Maybe you are thinking, "We don't want to read about these dumb hardcore bands from 15 years ago, we want to see pictures of Charlie Benante's spoon collection." If that's what you're thinking, I actually agree with you, and I would post them if I had any, but I don't. So you'll have to settle for this.
Anyway, a lot of people now think of this stuff as "old school hardcore," but it certainly wasn't seen that way at the time and probably shouldn't be now. Most of the people in the bands and running the labels were sleazy dudes with long hair, Slayer shirts, and meth habits- metal as shit! It's probably hard for any youngsters reading this to imagine it, but in 1992, it definitely wasn't cool to wear Slayer or Metallica shirts to hardcore shows. Hardcore kids have only been seriously jocking metal for maybe 5-7 years- Skullkrusher and I went to a Youth of Today reunion show in 1998 or so wearing Anthrax and King Diamond shirts; we got LOTS of funny looks.
Where are they now: Chris from Apartment 213/Ringworm chilling in his backyard, complete with Larm shirt, folding chair, and plastic playground for the rugrats. One of the best dudes ever!
Punk rock ruined power violence
The thing that turned power violence into such a sea of shit was when PC emo/punk kids started flocking to it around 1997 or so. Spazz is probably to blame for this, as well as Charles Bronson. Actually, it's not their fault they wrote really fun, accessible songs that suburban kids liked, but it definitely made the genre less scummy and dark than, say, Excruciating Terror and No Comment did. Also, they weren't completely fucked up scumbags like most of the people in the early bands, so they were much more approachable and kids could relate to them more.
I have no idea why this dude from Plutocracy/No Less is in jail, but it's pretty much par for the course when it comes to the winners who started all the early bands
Within a few short years, though, what was once a wretched hive of scum and villiany had become flooded with copycat bands and what Nate from Creation Is Crucifixion once called "Locust wizards." It was completely ruined for me at that point. Instead of a bunch of fucked up losers who started bands because they hated life and didn't know what else to do with themselves, it became choked with uptight No Fun Club types who wanted to save the world and write songs about being vegan or the plight of native farmers in Antarctica.
Excruciating Terror with porn actor Randy Spears. This is the kind of awesomely scummy shit that got lost once the Locust wizards invaded.
There were way too many rules and it just got too close to the whole Ebullition/MRR scene for me. Too many assholes with spock haircuts and Swing Kids shirts, not enough alcoholics who worked at gas stations and listened to Ozzy. It was getting way too punk, and I mostly hate punk, especially the extremely dogmatic, shrill kind that was predominant in the late 90s. I got into this shit in the first place because the bands didn't give a fuck about the rules or being the next Noam Chomsky, so I was lost.
Where are they now: Dan from Spazz (right) is focusing on the hip-hop stuff he's been doing since forever as DJ Eons when he's not working as a Matisyahu impersonator.
When it comes to this genre, you really need to know what specific releases are good. Most of the bands were very inconsistent because they blew what little money they had on drugs, so what you often find is a very hit-and-miss catalog- you can't just pick a band and buy all their records, unless you want to end up with a bunch of crap. Here are the handful of records I consider mandatory. If you know the genre, none of them are surprises, but I'm not trying to impress anyone with my knowledge of the obscure.
Apartment 213 "Vacancy" 7"
This was one of the few good power violence records from a non-California band, and really came out of nowhere. Hailing from Cleveland, these guys were fucking pissed in a way that was different than the West Coast but no less brutal. They changed tempos on a dime just like the West Coast bands, but their slow parts had a downtuned, sludgy feel that added something new to the mix- I always thought they sounded like Infest meets Bloodlet, if such a thing is possible.
The first song on this record, "Mutilation," is absolutely punishing. I still don't think anybody's exactly duplicated it. They re-recorded it for their split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, but the version on this 7" is much better if for no other reason than it includes what is one of the best samples of all time. It's been a long time since they told me the story behind the answering machine message they sampled, but as I recall it is something like this: Their original drummer, Ron, was banging some girl who dumped him. Ron was calling up her new boyfriend (who I guess was like 18) and threatening him relentlessly. Eventually the poor kid's dad caught wind of it and called Ron, leaving the message that you hear on the record.
Also, I once went to this crappy chain Mexican restaurant called Chi-Chi's with A213's singer, Steve, and his then-wife. As we were saying goodbye, he turned to his wife and said, "You better hurry home, that chimichanga didn't sit too well with me. The toilet's gonna look like the inside of an empty peanut butter jar when I'm done with it." He's a classy guy like that.
Despise You - Discography
Looking back, Despise You and No Comment are the two bands from this era that I listen to the most, probably because they have similarly bleak takes on life. Despise You also takes the cake as the most consistent band of the genre: all their releases are A+ material, in contrast to a band like Capitalist Casualties who has a LOT of crap in their catalog. Usually it's not so much bad songwriting that ruins their records, but awful production.
The other thing is that I appreciate DY even more as I get older, probably because I also get more bitter, jaded, angry and disappointed in myself. DY's singer, Chris Elder, also ran the label Pessimiser, and put out several 16 records in the 90s (check out our interview with them, I think it is pretty great). I've known Chris since I was about 15, and I think I was 18 or 19 when he sent me "Blaze of Incompetence" to review for my old zine. I certainly liked it, but mostly only because it sounded like Fudge Tunnel. I definitely didn't "get it." A couple years ago, I rediscovered that album. With 10 more years of shattered dreams, disappointments, heartbreak, and living around angry poor people under my belt, I "got it" much more than I wish I did. Instead of just rocking out to the riffs, I alternate between crying and punching the wall, in keeping with the "angry surrender" spirit of their lyrics. I called Chris and told him the above, and he just said, "Heh. Yeah dude... now you get it."
"Puppet" has all the pieces that make DY such a sick band: Blasts on the china, lyrics that makes you want to stick your head in the oven, and a breakdown suitable for moshing holes in the walls.
Along with me, Max from Spazz, and occasional MI contributor Awakening, Chris was one of the handful of people in the mid 90s who were into No Comment, Meat Shits, and Phobia as well as Abnegation, Raid, and Mayday. Crossing genre boundaries like that was definitely NOT common back then, so I was super stoked that they didn't give a fuck and just listened to whatever they liked. That's why I was extra bummed when they No Fun Club started listening to this shit and trying to enforce their rulebook.
Here's a pretty good, new interview with Chris.
Psycho/Agathocles split 7"
J/K LOL! This record is so bad it's like something I would have made up in 1994 as a sarcastic joke.
Crossed Out/MITB split 7"
I like MITB just fine, but I don't worship them like all the proto-beardos did/do. They have their moments, but are pretty inconsistent, especially when they got into the noise shit (a complete waste of vinyl if you ask me). This is their finest release by far in my opinion, with songs like "Snake Apartment" and "Screwdriver In The Urethra Of Tomas Lenz." The people who were way into MITB were/are usually weird, annoying people with poor social skills and bad hygiene... just like the band! I interviewed Eric Wood when I was 15 or 16 for my zine and was very, very confused. He reminded me more of my parents' burned out hippie friends who did too many drugs than someone who would be in a hardcore band. He didn't even like Youth Of Today, WTF! Here's a newer interview with him from Vice of all places; he seems as weird as ever.
"Instantly Bent" is a long, sludgy intro riff followed by what sounds like an out-of-context sample from a jazz song, like if you took 2 seconds from the end of a Jack Dejohnette solo and looped it a few times.
Someone once described this to me as, "It sounds like he's having a tantrum." Pretty accurate!
I like this song because the snare sounds like a sprinkler when he plays the fills.
Crossed Out were legends for good reason, essentially picking up where Infest left off and making it even more pissed off. In the same way as No Comment was the bleakest band, Crossed Out was the most angry. They didn't really last long or hang out much, so I don't have any funny stories about them, sorry. Their 7" is also excellent, but the basement-level "we recorded this in 45 minutes on my sister's old Fischer-Price tape recorder" production on this record makes it a little better for me. This kind of music is almost always better with shitty production.
No Comment "Downsided"
This is the soundtrack to having the fucking gun in your mouth, razor at your wrist, or rope around your neck. It's also arguably the best hardcore record ever made, no joke. Think of it as the desperation and despair of Black Flag "Damaged" with the pacing of early Napalm Death.
Here are about half the songs on this 7". Have a phone handy with the suicide hotline on speed dial, this shit makes Neglect sound like New Found Glory.
I don't really know what to say about this other than what I did already... I've consistently listened to this record for 15 or so years and it still gives me chills. Nothing else quite captures the feeling of being at the absolute bottom... Nice attention to detail in the packaging, too: the lyric sheet folded out into a 2x3' poster of a slit wrist, and the inscription on the matrix was "Do dilaudid, flip your lid" on one side and "Quitarte sus problemas con Vicodin" on the other (which means "solve your problems with Vicodin" in Spanish). Like I wrote about the other week with regretcore, it's clear that this record was made by people with legit, crushing dysfunction, not angsty teenagers.
Definitely check out this interview with Brent for more background.
Capitalist Casualties "Art of Ballistics"
This was one of the first super DIY records I ever bought, back in 1991 I think? I bought this, MDC "Millions of Dead Cops" LP and No Comment "Common Senseless" 7"- not a bad way to start, right?? Speaking of unpunk shirts, I remember being extremely puzzled by Mike's Slayer shirt in the pictures on the lyric sheet. "WTF," I said to myself, "I thought these guys were punk?! You can't wear a Slayer shirt if you're punk! That's like petting the cat backwards, it's just not done!"
This is actually from the "Raised Ignorant" 7", which I don't really like, but this song is one of CC's best. Really brutal both lyrically and musically.
Unlike most of the other records I've talked about in this post, this is pretty much a straightforward hardcore 7". As many have said before, it's just the next evolution of first DRI LP: no frills hardcore from a bunch of pissed off kids that doesn't claim to be anything other than that. While they've evolved the formula a little, you can see that they're firmly rooted in 80s hardcore when you see song titles like "My Dad Kills For The USA" and "Nuclear National Park." What's next, "Honey, I Moshed The Kids"? "Crass Ventura, Punk Detective"??
Their split with MDC is another one of my favorite releases, as well as the tracks from "Bleearrrrrgggghhhh."
Spazz "Dwarf Jester Rising"
I'm guessing that many of you are already familiar with Spazz, but if you aren't, you definitely want to check them out. They started in 1992 or 93, basically the first of the second wave of power violence bands, and had members from a strange variety of bands: Sheep Squeeze, Plutocracy and Stikky. Chris Dodge was also in a very early incarnation of No Use For A Name and worked at Fat Wreck Chords for years, which I always thought was pretty funny since it was definitely "against the rules" to like both Fat bands and power violence.
Where are they now: The sad tale of Black Army Jacket. Drummer Dave Witte (left) is still keeping it real as fuck and plays in the popular neo-thrash band Municipal Waste. Bassist Carlos Ramirez (far right), on the other hand, has retired from hardcore and spends most of his time chilling on a boat with some AZN bro and his guera wife. List of people who nobody cares where they are now: The original drummer for BAJ.
Many people will disagree, but I think the best Spazz material by far is the early stuff, like pre-"La Revancha." After that they started sounding a lot more, for lack of a better word, "hardcore," like Straight Ahead or something. The earlier material is more pissed and slightly grindy, which is probably why all the suburban emo kids like the later stuff better.
One of their best songs, "Loach." I have no idea what it's about.
"Hairfarmer" is about how Max Ward had a giant, curly mop when he was in Plutocracy. The second part is about this guy Rob Beckstrom's son, also named Max. Rob started going bald early, hence "Max Jr flowing on top, growing more hair than his pop." As an aside, if you know anything about 90s Bay Area graffiti, it's pretty funny that both Rob and Dan from Spazz were early members of US. If you happen to know Rob, I lost touch with him a while ago but it would be cool to hear from him again!
Here are a few funny Spazz memories:
- Max was briefly in the Meat Shits with Kindred from No Less/Plutocracy, and someone asked him to sign the record he played on for a joke. I think he wrote something like, "Fuck you, Robert Deathrage is a nazi."
- Going to Gilman with Max when I was 17 or something in his dad's Acura Legend. I was holding his snare on my lap and he said "Dude be careful, if you scratch the leather my parents will be super pissed.
- Shopping for Mecca and Wu Wear gear at some wigger store in Cleveland with Dan
Cry Now, Cry Later 1 and 2
These two compilations are absolutely mandatory, especially if you want to get the sleazy, scummy Southern California take on things. Maybe I'm imagining things, but I feel like not enough people are into these records. I mean, people definitely still jock MITB, but when was the last time you heard some brainded crust punk say, "Bro, fucking Iabhorher, bro... that song is fuckin hella mass tight bro!!" They definitely aren't checking out Meat Shits, the Fear Factory demo track, Crom, or any of the other great shit on these comps, either. If you haven't given these a listen lately, you probably should. Vols 3 and 4 were OK, but by then it had been diluted by the copycat bands who just ripped off Charles Bronson and didn't listen to Gut or Malicious Hate.
If only all Excruciating Terror records were like this: The filthy production of the 7", with the "polished" songwriting of the LPs. Probably their best song.
Featuring Municpal Waste/Discordance Axis/Black Army Jacket drummer Dave Witte, Iabhorher definitely got overlooked. I think this might be the best song on all of the Cry Now comps, and their 7" on Slap A Ham was equally crushing.
Crom is simultaneously the most brilliant and most retarded band of all time. Long before Max from Spazz started the trend of jocking Hirax, Crom's mind-blowing cover of "Hate Fear And Power" appeared on "Cry Now, Cry Later." I can't believe they managed to make a band as fucking awful as Hirax sound this good!
Malicious Hate is a perfect example of an "Honorable Mention" band, especially this song that was on that weird 8" comp that came out on Ax/Ction (I can't remember the name of it).
Honorable Mention & Stuff I Forgot
There are lots of other bands that were interesting and worth digging up if you're really into it: Stapled Shut, Agents of Satan/Radioactive Lunch, Plutocracy/No Less, Benumb, and other random shit like Avulsion, the one and only Bludgeon song ever recorded, or Noothgrush. But then I would have to start mentioning bands like Black Army Jacket and Praparation H, and nobody wants THAT to happen!! I'm sure the comments will have some good suggestions and/or things I should have mentioned but forgot to.